When I first arrived in Singapore in 2003, all of these Bahasa and Malay-speaking people would ask me “makan already ah?” I had absolutely no idea what they were saying but gave them my best gormless smile and said yes. They seemed happy with that, so all was good.
Then one day I asked someone: what does ‘makan already ah’ actually mean? And the translation was “have you eaten?” I was already aware of “have you eaten” because English-speaking Singaporeans would ask me that very question throughout every day too. I also thought that was a weird question to ask someone, so it obviously took me a while to put two-and-two together to realize that both “have you eaten?” and “makan already ah?” were the Australian equivalent of “g’day.”
It’s a form of greeting, and having lived here a decade, the fact that it is linked to food is hardly surprising. I believe there is some historical context to it – i.e. ancestors starving in the past so food is highly valued – which, of course, is how any societies’ common words and phrases come about – historical context.
I was thinking about this yesterday, which lead me to remember my first few weeks in London back in 1995. Starting my first job in the City, someone walked past me and said “alright?” I stopped walking to respond to the question, ready to explain I was, in fact, better than alright, only to see them wandering off up the hall. I was a bit perplexed, wondering why someone would ask me a question and then piss off, but thought nothing more of it.
Of course, over time, it became very clear that “alright” was also the equivalent of “g’day,” and I was alrighting along with the best of them in no time. Thankfully the US was straight forward with hi, hello, hi-five – your standard stuff – but culture shocks in the US came in many other forms. Shit I had to re-learn how to say “water” because no one understood my version of “water.” It’s hard to re-learn a word you’ve been using all your life let me tell you!
Interesting no? Some cultures greet you with a statement and some with a question.
Anyhow, with this random sequence of memories going through my mind yesterday, I walked back towards the elevator and one of the old security aunties asked me “makan already ah?” I said “yes, makan already, you?” She beamed at me and said “Yes!” See I get the hang of these things eventually.
Anyone else have any of those not-quite-picking-up-on-the-local-greeting when ensconcing themselves in a new country?
Yours, without the bollocks